Matot / Tribes & Masei / Journeys
We end the book of Numbers/B’midbar with a double Torah portion. Matot/Tribes and Masei/Journeys. Matot opens with the consequences of vows and oaths to God. ‘Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, “This is the thing which the Lord has commanded: 2 If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.’
Numbers 30 continues with the vows and annulment of the oaths regarding women. Given that their society was patriarchal, this explains the in depth instructions. Vows by women are subject to annulment by the male authority of the family (father, husband). This does not deal with the problem of hasty vows by men, however and later, Yeshua teaches His followers not to make vows at all. The Torah permits vows, but does not command or even commend them. Ecclesiastics 5:5 ‘Better not to vow than vow and not pay it.’
The Hebrew word for vow is neder, although there is no English equivalent, it is translated as vow. Oath in Hebrew is shevuah. Even though each word is similar in context, they relate different in regards to Elohim. In the prior Torah portion, Balak, we see where he tried to impose curses on the Israelites out of the mouth of Balaam. But God kept the words as blessings. The Etz Chaim expounds on the words we utter: ‘A word is not merely a sound; it is real, it has substance, with the power to hurt or to heal, to elevate or to degrade. The power of speech is unique gift of the human being, a power we share with no other creatures. By uttering words, an Israelite can impose an obligation of himself or herself as binding as God’s commands in the Torah.’
Proverbs 18:21 warns: ‘Life and death are in the power of the tongue.’
Mark 7:20-23 ‘ And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
We may assume that a vow or an oath is limited to a personal situation as in ‘I will…’ or ‘I am…’ However, words spoken are the very vows that we laden our spiritual walk with. To edify and encourage another are words that are rightly spoken. ‘You’re doing a good job…’ ‘You’re going to be okay…’ ‘How can I help…’ These types of words can fit into the category of blessings. You are blessing someone with words of kindness and encouragement.
Proverbs 25:11 ‘A word fitly spoken is like apples of old in settings of silver.’
Hebrews 3:13 reminds us to ‘encourage one another daily…’
Colossians 4:6 ‘Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.’
The other side contains the words of curses, words that hurt and wound. These usually come in bouts of anger, pride, or a wounded ego, one that internalizes every situation. The tongue lashes out, and before we know it, we have cursed another. In Psalm 64, the author speaks of the workers of iniquities: ‘Who sharpen their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shot their arrows – bitter word.’ Psalm 64:3.
Matthew 12:34-36 tells us that we will give an account for every idle word. Proverbs 10:31 tells us that our tongue will be cut out.
How can we take unfit words back? They are tossed in the wind as if we are free to curse those we desire when our anger wells up.
James 3 speaks of the tongue being a fire, a world of iniquity that defiles the whole body. It is an unruly, evil and full of deadly poison entity, ‘with it we bless our God and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.’
Proverbs 4:23 is a warning; ‘Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life.’
In Numbers 31, Elohim instructs Moses to ‘take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel…’ In verse 31:11 we read that they kept the plunder, spoils which included the people and animals. Moses was angry and questioned the officers, ‘why have you allowed the women to live? They were the ones who followed Balaam and were the means of turning the Israelites away from God.’ Numbers 31:17 instructs them to kill every woman who had relations with a man.
What happened was moral destruction. God has a covenant for His people which constitute a moral and ethical way of life. This divine moral law is embodied in the codes set out in the Torah, however, not all humanity live by the moral or ethical codes that God has presented for His people. It is our duty through the love that we have for Abba that we abide by His code of ethics. These are instructions that involve, how we treat others, and how we honor and obey The Father.
James 13-25 ‘Be doers of the word, and not hearers only. Otherwise you are deceiving yourselves. For anyone who hears the word but does not carry it out is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and after observing himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.’
Matot / Tribes
Numbers 30:1-2 ‘Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, “This is the thing which the Lord has commanded: 2 If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.’ This prohibition on swearing falsely is also one of the Ten Commandments.
The difference between an oath and a vow is somewhat technical.
The Hebrew נֶדֶר (neder), a vow, is used in Scripture for a promise made to God to perform some deed, as in Genesis 28:20- ‘Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on…’ as well as for a prohibition which a person imposes upon himself to abstain from something which is otherwise permitted and can refer to an object or to a thing.
An oath, shevu'ah, in Hebrew, refers to a person, as a person swears an oath to perform an action, or swears something is true.
Vows and oaths have far-reaching consequences in the practical sphere. In the vow the person prohibits the thing to himself by declaring, "I take upon myself"; in the oath he prohibits himself to the thing by saying, "I swear to do this, or not to do this. Vows and oaths are obligations created by words. They are commitments to do something or refrain from doing something. The vow affects the status of an object- I may vow not to eat something. That something is the forbidden food. The oath affects the person not the object. What is now forbidden is not the food but the act of eating it.
There are four words, different but the same; vow, oath, pledge and promise. All pertain to an individual stating or declaring some sort of act as in ‘I will’, or ‘I am’ or ‘I wish’.
I will never….
I am going to…
I wish that person was…
Just fill in the blanks and you get a visual of a vow/oath/pledge/promise.
Yeshua gave a remarkable answer and guidance in Matthew 5:33-37 ‘Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.’
And in James 5:12 ‘ But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.’
How many times do we hear, I swear to God? Or, I promise to God. According to Yeshua, these are from the evil one, for when we state such blatant acts of words we make common the name of God. We elevate ourselves to His stature for we lift ourselves up to Him, we are as a god for we swear by His Name, as if we were without sin and able to uphold the promise.
Yeshua is stating that it is better to just be, just do. Be truthful, live in truth, speak truth, walk truth and be one of few words. Matthew 12:36-37 ‘But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’
Why are vows and oaths so dangerous? First, we have to look at what we are vowing. Have we vowed or made an oath to a church in the form of a membership? What about a club? Or a flag or a country or a denomination or a political party? What does that entity represent? Where does that leave us after we make that vow or oath?
There are two vows that are the most often repeated. The vow sworn over the Bible in a court of law: ‘I swear to tell the whole truth….so help me God’; and the wedding vow, which can go something like this: "In the name of God, I, [name], take you, [name], to be my [husband/wife] to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.’
Are these vows made in earnest? Most probably they are, but what happens when they are broken? What happens when the person lies, or when a spouse commits adultery and wants a divorce? Are the vows and oaths suddenly negated? Were they just for a season?
Our words have power, Proverbs 18:21 ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit, ‘ and we are given many to use, let us use them wisely.
Baruch HaShem – Rabbi Jay Howar